Re Was the Election Hacked? A comment

Was the election rigged? There has been talk of the ease with which this can happen. From the story by Alex Halderman:

This malware would likely be designed to remain inactive during pre- election tests, do its dirty business during the election, then erase itself when the polls close. A skilled attacker’s work might leave no visible signs — though the country might be surprised when results in several close states were off from pre-election polls.

I am not a conspiracy theorist. I promise. I am just writing to rebuke the hasty dismissals of the possibility of rigging from the pop-statisticians Nate Silver and Nate Cohn via Twitter.

Cohn Silver

The Nates are responding to an NY Mag article that says that Hillary received 7% fewer votes in the counties that relied on electronic-voting than in counties that used paper ballots and optical scanners. The Nates both run regressions on the improvement of Hillary in each county of certain swing states measured by the “clintonshift” - a change in the proportion of votes that went for Hillary. They say that by including demographics in their regressions they can explain the “clintonshift” without significant contribution from the fact that a county used paper ballots exclusively. The problem is this misses an entirely possible method of rigging the election that this data would not capture - the random destruction (or fabrication) of votes in counties with relatively more (or less) Hillary voters.

If the hacking was done in the following fashion - target the most dense Hillary counties and randomly destroy 5% of the votes (both Hillary and Trump votes) - this analysis based on the proportion of votes that went for each candidate would not catch it because the proportion of votes in each county would not be affected. Unfortunately, a recount of votes would not even be able to detect this sort of hack. The only way to detect it would be to talk to people who voted and investigate if any votes were missing.

Again, I promise I am not a conspiracy theorist. Just pointing out that the statistic being used in the discussion does not allow us to know for sure whether or not the election was hacked.

Written on November 23, 2016